Artist still smitten with his hometown

We saw Rod Hatfield’s amazing video work at a FilmDayton Festival several years ago, and since then have run into him around Springfield, where he has added his creative touch most recently to one of the community’s old treasures. We caught up with this very busy guy the other day — and were impressed by the passion and zeal he expressed for his hometown. Wherever you live, work and play, we hope his words will make you think.

Q: You have an unusual business — tell us about it.

A: I’m a co-founder of The Now Device, and essentially we specialize in dynamic video for event production. We use visual media to transform stages, galleries and landmarks, particularly architectural landmarks, and turn them into memorable, special events. We explore a site for its potential as a visual canvas, and we transform it, often in real time with interactivity. You can see more of what we do at thenowdevice.com.

Q: What’s the history of the company?

A: It dates back to about 1999 in Seattle, where I was living at the time. We were then part of a larger kind of experimental arts ensemble, riding a wave of what was then brand new digital media, cameras and the like, and the advent of broadband. We took over an old ferry boat called the Kalakala, which had been the flagship of the Puget Sound ferry system for decades – in fact, before the Space Needle it was the icon that suggested Seattle to the rest of the world. It was all Art Deco in design, and it looked like a Buck Rogers spaceship, just wonderful. Anyway, it was retired as a ferry and moved to Alaska, where it became a crab cannery. A Seattle sculptor found it, recognized it and returned it to Seattle as his crazy chaotic mission, and we transformed it into a multimedia palace. It was pretty cool. It needed $30 million in renovation, and we were doing events to raise the money — interactive parties that combined circus performers, fire-spinners, acrobats, dance, cinema and multiple screen projections. That was my forte, using a dozen projectors to create or recreate a novel environment. The parties were very successful — and we didn’t know it at the time, but some of the attendees were Microsoft executives or leaders with the Experimental Music Project, Seattle’s big contemporary music museum. They started contracting us to events for them, and the company was born. That was the genesis.

Q: So, you’re still based corporately in Seattle, but you split your time between there and Springfield. You’re here a lot.

A: Yes, I split my time. I have a strong footprint in Springfield. I have always loved my hometown and always considered it my home base, physically and metaphysically. It’s where I was born, where four generations of my family played out the drama and passion of their lives. I have no antipathy toward Springfield, but I was also keen on having a global adventure, and wanted to travel the world, which I have done and still do, through my photography and my work. Several years ago, my mom had a stroke — she’s still with us, thank goodness — and it woke me up to how finite life is. We think it will go on and on, but it won’t. So part of it was prioritizing how to spend quality time with her and my dad while I could still work. It reminded me how much I do love Springfield, too. In my opinion, it has such fascinating architecture, a lot of natural splendor with the park system, and the bike trails are phenomenal. I have so many friends here, too, from growing up here and new friends — a really rich tapestry of relationships that is very meaningful to me. Locally, I work for the Turner Foundation, which hired me a few years ago as creative director to do all kinds of innovative partnerships with the Westcott House, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Clark State and our Arts Council. I really enjoy the people I work with and the opportunity to support and maybe help lead our community into the future. We’ve got such a rich past, and it’s very meaningful to live and work here.

Q: One of your local projects is working with the Hartman Rock Garden in Springfield, the folk-art site on Russell Avenue. Tell us what you’re doing.

A: It’s one of the highlights of my life, I have to say. I love that place, it’s so enchanted. It’s been a treasure for 80 years — it was built by a visionary man, Ben Hartman, in 1932. During the Depression he was laid off and wanted to use concrete and found materials to create a wonderland in his yard for his kids. After his wife died in the 1990s, it fell into disrepair until the Kohler Foundation in Wisconsin bought and restored it — they do that with folk art sites — and while they were working on it, the Turner Foundation asked me to document it on video. I spent a whole year on it, and got to know the Kohler people really well and became endeared to the garden as a magical place. At the conclusion, they gave it to the community as a gift, and they wanted a resident artist to try to fulfill the kind of aesthetic energy inherent in the place, and also to take care of it and give tours. That’s me. We get folks from all over the country who stop by; it’s in Roadside Attractions, Weird Ohio and all over the web, and some days you’ll have cars from Washington, Oregon, New York, Pennsylvania. Check out hartmanrockgarden.org.

Q: Does the community fully appreciate the garden?

A: I think so. It was a relatively hidden treasure for a long time, but since the restoration it’s become an important tourist attraction. Now our convention and visitors bureau actively promotes it. We have several thousand visitors a year. Folks will go to Young’s in Yellow Springs, pick up a brochure, head up to the rock garden and then see the Westcott House. It’s funny — we’ve got world-class architecture and amazing folk art, all in the same trip. We’ve got it all.

Q: Does that sort of encapsulate what you like about the area?

A: Absolutely. This is odd, since I’ve worked in technology for years, — I’ve been a Microsoft vendor for almost a decade, I do auto shows; we’ve done New York, Chicago and Pebble Beach — but I truly consider myself a folk artist, since I’m self-taught. I really admire Ben Hartman for having such vision and for mastering his medium. And also, since I work with technology, I just think it’s awesome that I get to work in a garden — pulling weeds, deadheading flowers, getting my hands dirty and having a relationship with all the plants. I’ve got this very elemental part of my life, and then this super high-aesthetic museum experience through the Westcott House, which is just a mile away with a bike path through our urban core connecting them. I’m smitten. Being able to hit world-class tourist attractions in a couple of miles sort of typifies how I define quality of life. That, and all my friendships.

Q: You clearly love this area. What is one thing that you think would make the community even better?

A: I think a lot of people are waking up to their own talents and powers, and I think the town would be even better if it caught on in the community; if the DIY mentality blossomed more. There are more entrepreneurs, more artists expressing themselves — it’s a nice nucleus right now, but it would be great to see it hit critical mass. But those people are here. They were more underground when I came home eight years ago, and I’ve seen a proliferation of people expressing themselves creatively and entrepreneurially. It’s happening. It’s happening.

Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.

Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.

X